News / Asia

Cambodia Takes First Step in Connecting Regional Railways

Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a "flying carpet" and her passenger head west towards the town of Pursat in central Cambodia along the buckled line in late October, closely followed by another flying carpet. This line will be upgraded
Riding the rails in western Cambodia: The driver of a "flying carpet" and her passenger head west towards the town of Pursat in central Cambodia along the buckled line in late October, closely followed by another flying carpet. This line will be upgraded
TEXT SIZE - +
Robert Carmichael

Trains have started running on a stretch of Cambodia's once-defunct railway. The news marks the first time in years that trains have run commercially in the country, and moves the dream of a pan-Asian railway much closer.

Decades of conflict shattered Cambodia's infrastructure - its roads, ports and railways.

In recent years some of those assets have been rebuilt, and last Friday at Phnom Penh's railway station, the finance minister presided over a ceremony to mark the resumption of the rail service.

Rebuilding Cambodia's infrastructure

Cambodia's rail network has long been the missing link in the dream to connect Singapore by rail to Vietnam and China, and ultimately to Europe.

War and neglect meant that what remained of Cambodia's 600 kilometers of rail system was in such poor condition that the last rackety trains were reduced to crawling along buckled tracks at five kilometers an hour.

Rebuilding the network will cost $142 million, the bulk of that financed with a loan from the Asian Development Bank. Much of the rest is funded by the Australian government and Phnom Penh.

Putu Kamayana, the ADB's country head in Cambodia, predicts that Cambodia's decision to award a 30-year railway concession to an Australian company, Toll Holdings, will pay long-term dividends in more areas than just rail services.

"That's a very big step and a very bold step by the government, but certainly by also improving the transport infrastructure it will improve ultimately Cambodia's competitiveness in the global economy and promote foreign direct investment into Cambodia," he said.

Last Wednesday, Toll's local subsidiary, Toll Royal Railway, took journalists on a refurbished passenger train from Phnom Penh to the town of Takeo, some 50 kilometers south of the capital.

Toll Royal Railway Chief Executive David Kerr was on the trip.

Currently most of Cambodia's freight moves by road. Kerr makes it clear the new rail service will aim to take freight off the roads and put it on the less polluting rail network.

"There's certainly a train a day in cement alone, so there's a significant amount of cement in Cambodia. And then linking in with the ship calls - the feeder services to China, America and via Singapore. And so we'll develop our strategies in cooperation with the shipping lines to develop that service," Kerr says, "There's large volumes of salt that move through Cambodia, as well as domestic and export rice, as well as sugar cane.

One benefit will be that the country's roads will likely become safer and last longer. And Kerr says the rail service has already cut road freight rates by one-fifth.

But since freight is where the money is, regular passenger services might not ever resume.

Upgrade to a passenger service


Toll's first step was to improve a 110-kilometer stretch of track that runs south of the capital to the town of Touk Meas. That is the stretch that opened last week. The next piece of track, running 140 kilometers from Touk Meas to Sihanoukville port, is slated for completion in May.

A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.
A train moves out of Phnom Penh along the refurbished line running south to the town of Touk Meas in late October. The homes of people living alongside the track will be demolished in due course.

Once that is done, Toll will start to upgrade the 390 kilometers of line that runs west out of Phnom Penh via Battambang before entering Thailand. That is to be done in 2012.

After that the only gap on the pan-Asian railway will be the section between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. The two governments have agreed to construct the link, but work has not yet started.

Any large infrastructure project generates winners and losers. Here the losers include the local entrepreneurs who run informal railway services on short stretches of the buckled line in western Cambodia.

Their machines are known as norries, or "flying carpets," and are easily visualized - think of a large bamboo bed laid on top of two sets of steel wheels.

Passengers sit on this bamboo bed with their luggage. There are no seats and no sides, and the flying carpet, powered by a small engine, can scurry along the line at 40 kilometers an hour.

It takes only one minute to disassemble a flying carpet. That is just as well since when two of them meet on this single track, etiquette demands that the driver carrying the lighter load dismantle his flying carpet to let the heavier vehicle pass.

Prak Phea has worked this stretch outside Pursat town, about 200 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, for 16 years, and earns up to $50 a week. He knows about the rail upgrade, but has not yet decided what he will do next year for work.

The rules of the infrastructure upgrade mean that anyone affected must be compensated. An annoyed Prak Phea says most of the norrie drivers in other towns were paid $250 each, but just four of the 15 on his stretch of line got anything since they were not told when or how to register.

He says that when people came to register them, he was in Pursat. So he missed the chance and did not register, and that means he will not get compensated.

The ADB's Putu Kamayana promises the bank will take that up with the government.

For the next 12 months, however, Prak Phea can carry on earning a living on this battered stretch of line.

But as surely as the whistles of the freight trains leaving Phnom Penh signal the rebirth of a proper rail service for Cambodia, they also sound the death knell for two decades of flying carpets.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid